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Apple vs. Sonos vs. Google: The best (and worst) Wi-Fi speakers

If you're buying a multiroom music system, there are a number of competing products. We sift through them to find the best and warn you off the rest.

Ty Pendlebury
1 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Best and (worst) Wi-Fi speakers

If you're looking to buy a Wi-Fi audio system, there are plenty of options. But choosing can be bewildering, especially with the arrival of "smart" speakers. In order to dispel some of this confusion we've broken down the most popular standards, as well as the most noteworthy products from each. 

Unlike Bluetooth, all of these systems are designed to be multiroom, letting you listen to music in one room or many at the same time.

The main standards are:

Chromecast built-in/Google Home
Bose SoundTouch
DTS Play-Fi
Spotify Connect

Most Wi-Fi speakers support at least two of these standards and some, like Onkyo and Pioneer products from 2017 onward, can include up to four. 

There are also a number of other standards limited to single manufacturers, including Yamaha MusicCast, Samsung Multiroom, Bluesound and LG Music Flow. Let's take a closer look.  

Editors' note, April 3: This list was first published April 10, 2017, and has been updated with new products.

2 of 24

Apple HomePod

Ecosystems: AirPlay/AirPlay 2

Why it's great: The HomePod is one of the best sounding compact speakers we've heard. It has effortless bass for a speaker of its size and really can fill a room with sound. Setup is also a breeze.

Unfortunately, it's stuck in an Apple-only world at the moment, and you'll need both an iOS device and an Apple Music subscription to use it. And until AirPlay 2 comes later in the year, the speaker won't do multiroom. Finally, it's pretty expensive, especially compared to...

3 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Sonos One

Ecosystems: Sonos, Spotify Connect

Why it's great: Sonos outlasted competitors such as Slim Devices and Roku due to its commitment to sound quality and user experience. With the Sonos One, the company has also demonstrated its willingness to innovate, and it pulls it off brilliantly. The Sonos One is not only the best voice-assisted speaker, but the best wireless speaker you can buy for the money, period.

4 of 24 Chris Monroe/CNET

Google Home Max

Ecosystems: Chromecast built-in, Spotify Connect

Why it's great: Until the HomePod came along this was the best smart speaker we had tested. But the availability of the Apple speaker doesn't negate the Max's talents. This speaker is one of the only speakers we'd consider as a replacement to a traditional mini hi-fi system as it sounds great and it offers a 3.5-inch input. Throw in Chromecast and the Google voice assistant and you have the centerpiece for a kick-ass home system.

5 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Chromecast Audio

Ecosystem: Chromecast, Spotify Connect

Why it's great: While the product has remained relatively unchanged since its launch in the fall of 2015, the $35 (£30 or AU$49) Chromecast Audio is the easiest and cheapest way to get into Wi-Fi music. We're just waiting on a Sonos-style app that can control multiple streaming services at once.

Sonos Play:3 -- best home theater tech
6 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Sonos Play:3

Ecosystems: Sonos, Spotify Connect

Why it's great: When it comes to streaming audio, nothing beats Sonos. It's the easiest streaming-audio solution, offering up access to services like Pandora, Spotify, Sirius XM, Last.fm, Slacker, Rdio, Rhapsody and Amazon Music. The Play:3 offers solid sound at a petite size, which makes it an excellent choice for anyone who could use, say, a bedroom or kitchen audio system.

7 of 24 Sonos

Sonos Play:5

Ecosystem: Sonos, Spotify Connect

Why it's great: With plenty of reserve power and sparklingly clear sound, the Sonos Play:5 is one of the best all-in-one Wi-Fi systems out there. Spending any more than $500, £429 or AU$749 on a single speaker doesn't make any sense when you could buy the Play:5 instead.

8 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Sonos Playbase

Ecosystems: Sonos, Spotify Connect

Why it's great: If you have Sonos and want something that will play movies, you have two choices -- the Playbar and the Playbase. Though its design means that not all TVs will fit on top of it, the Playbase still gets our nod due to its better bass performance and a fancier, eye-catching design.

9 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Sony STR-DN1080

Ecosystems: Chromecast, Spotify Connect.

Why it's great: The Sony STR-DN1080 is a full-fledged AV receiver with excellent home theater and music performance. It features Chromecast built-in support and so will work with other compatible equipment in a multiroom setup. You can also control it with the Google Home or Mini.

10 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

JBL Playlist

Ecosystem: Chromecast

Why it's great: Until the release of the JBL Playlist, the Chromecast built-in standard was great, but it lacked its own Sonos Play:1. While the Playlist isn't quite in that stratosphere, this is the budget speaker to get if you're looking to build a system around Google's multiroom system.

Riva Audio Arena
11 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Riva Audio Arena

Ecosystems: Chromecast, Apple AirPlay 

Why it's great: While it's a lot more expensive than the JBL Playlist, the Riva Arena boasts more refined sound, an optional battery and support for Apple AirPlay in addition to Chromecast.

12 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Bose SoundTouch 10

Ecosystems: Bose SoundTouch, Spotify Connect

Why it's great: The Bose SoundTouch 10 connects to your device over Wi-Fi and comes with an app that lets you save your favorite internet radio stations as presets. Of all the Bose SoundTouch speakers, this one is the best value for its $200 (£160 or AU$299) price.

13 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Bose SoundTouch 300

Ecosystems: SoundTouch, Spotify Connect

Why it's great: The SoundTouch 300 sound bar has a great widening effect, which works for both movies as well as music, and the SoundTouch app is pretty easy to use as well. Overall, we prefer this sound bar over the Sonos Playbar.

14 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung Radiant360 R1 WAM-1500

Ecosystems: Samsung Multiroom, Spotify Connect

Why it's great: Despite a mouthful of a name, the Samsung Radiant360 R1 WAM-1500 is a speaker best suited to playing background music from the center of the room.

15 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Yamaha RX-V483

Ecosystems: YamahaMusicCast, Spotify Connect.

Why it's great: The Yamaha RX-V483 is a 5.1 receiver that features excellent sound quality and multiroom streaming capabilities, including MusicCast and Spotify Connect. If you don't want Atmos, get this.

JBL Link 300
16 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

JBL Link 300

Ecosystems: Google Chromecast built-in, Spotify Connect.

Why it's great: You can count the number of good Chromecast speakers on one hand, and even fewer of them also have Google Assistant built-in. The JBL Link manages to get everything right, with a better sound than the cheaper JBL Playlist and the convenience of the onboard microphones.

17 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Denon HEOS 1

Ecosystems: Denon HEOS, Spotify Connect

Why it's great: Denon has trailed market leaders Sonos and Bose for a few years, and the court case brought on Denon by Sonos only complicates matters. Regardless, the Denon HEOS 1 is one of the only waterproof Wi-Fi speakers we've seen and it sounds pretty good to boot.

18 of 24 Bluesound

Bluesound Pulse Flex

Ecosystems: Bluesound, Spotify Connect

Why it's great: Bluesound is best thought of as the audiophile's answer to Sonos, with support for niche features such as hi-res music and MQA (which Tidal users should appreciate). The app still needs some work, but other Bluesound components, such as the Node 2 CD ripper/NAS drive, help differentiate the system from competitors.

19 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Naim Mu-so Qb

Ecosystem: Chromecast, Spotify Connect

Why it's great: Naim's mu-so Qb is a stylish cube-shaped speaker with a unique design and excellent format support, including native Roon playback. For the money there are better value systems, but they're nowhere near as good-looking.

20 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Definitive Technology W Studio

Ecosystem: DTSPlay-Fi, Spotify Connect

Why it's great: The Definitive Technology W Studio system is one of our favorite high-end sound bars and also our favorite Play-Fi speaker. Play-Fi offers support from the most manufacturers of any proprietary multiroom system, though this could soon be eclipsed by Chromecast.

21 of 24

Phorus PS1

Ecosystems: DTS Play-Fi

Why it sucks: The Phorus PS-1 was one of the first Play-Fi products on the market, but it wasn't an auspicious beginning. With an awkward design that looked like an iPod dock -- but wasn't -- and just plain awful sound, it's hard to believe that Play-Fi became the juggernaut that it is today.

22 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Onkyo SBT-A500

Ecosystems: Chromecast built-in, Spotify Connect, DTS Play-Fi

Why it sucks: In 2017, Onkyo and sister brand Pioneer have gone all out with support for two competing multiroom systems: Play-Fi and Chromecast. It's a pity then that Onkyo's first product off the line was the disappointing SBT-A500. Even the $1,000 sound bar's wide format support couldn't distract us from the mediocre sound quality. UK and Australian pricing is yet to be announced, but the US price roughly converts to £800 or AU$1,350.

23 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Rocki Play (discontinued)

Ecosystem: Rocki, Spotify Connect

Why it sucks: We reviewed the Rocki Play back in 2013 and at the time it was one of the cheapest Wi-Fi dongles you could get. With the addition of Spotify Connect, it had the potential to be the poster child for streaming music. But the app was plagued by incompatibility issues and one of the promised products never materialized (the Play+). When the company's CEO moved on to developing a universal translator, everything ground to a halt in January 2016 and the product appears to be discontinued.

24 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Logitech Squeezebox (discontinued)

Ecosystem: Squeezebox

Why it sucks: Well, it doesn't suck as much as it sucks that it's gone. We have a soft spot for the Squeezebox line. It was neck and neck with Sonos for a while, but after Logitech almost lost the farm on a Google TV gamble the company also shuttered the Squeezebox line. But four years after the product was discontinued, a loyal fanbase has ensured it still receives support and new streaming services. Buy almost any Squeezebox product secondhand and you'll soon be able to play Spotify as well as Tidal on it. Even the high-end Roon music software will talk to one.

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